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May 27, 2009 > School board explores later high school start time

School board explores later high school start time

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Teens these days are having a hard time keeping their eyes open in class and it isn't going unnoticed. According to Fremont Superintendent Dr. Milt Werner, parents have been asking the Board of Education for two years about starting the high school day later in the morning.

"I'm open to it, and my younger son would love it," says Kris Gramlich, the parent of two sons at Kennedy High School and a daughter at Brier Elementary School. She volunteers on the Parent Representative Advisory Assembly, which has representatives elected from each school site. The PRAA takes direction from the School Board, which asks them to look into various issues of interest.

With all the parent inquiries, the PRAA formed a subcommittee of five parents to examine the matter of start times. The Board decided to hold community meetings to obtain input from the public. Meetings were held throughout May at Fremont high schools.

At the Mission San Jose High School community meeting, parent Wendy Mueller said in regard to the possibility of a time change, "It would be a huge improvement. Trying to get my kid here by 7:30 a.m. is a hardship."

Werner presented information based on the few studies available and asked for the assistance of parents, "We're collecting information now from research and parental input." He informed the attendees that Dr. Dennis Brown, Director of Secondary Education, had researched circadian cycles (24 hour sleep patterns). Werner explained, "Everyone has an internal clock; sleep cycles are affected by appetite and hormonal changes at this time in the teen's development. Data seems to support later start times for teens, with more sleep and better results at school."

Prior to adolescence, most kids get sleepy by 8 or 9 p.m. But when puberty occurs, the internal clock doesn't make them feel sleepy until 11 p.m. Teens need more sleep but they struggle with drowsiness as most report sleeping only 6.5 hours a night.

In Minneapolis, school start times changed from 7:15 to 8:40 a.m. Two in-depth studies from the University of Minneapolis showed that, as a result, there were fewer cases of students suffering from depression, falling asleep in class, and missing school.

Academically, the time shift seemed to make a difference as well. Students achieved better grades and extracurricular activities were less impacted. Teachers reported that students seemed more rested and alert in the early morning periods, and teachers themselves reported being more energized. There was a modest improvement in 9th grade attendance, from 84 to 87 percent. Most grades averaged 93 to 94 percent in attendance.

The areas of difficulty in the time change related to transportation, sometimes proving problematic, as late arrivals made teaching more difficult. Other negatives were heavier traffic at later hours and a slight decrease of student participation in athletics.

Students are required to have 64,800 instructional minutes each year, so a delayed start must be offset by ending later in the day.

Union City's James Logan High School changed to 8:40 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. The administration at the school said there was a slight increase in student attendance, but as yet they don't have information regarding the other areas.

Parents at the community meeting were concerned about health issues relating to sleep deprivation, such as depression and fatigue. Studies have shown there is a direct correlation between lack of sleep and increased depression. When teens wake up regularly without sufficient quality of sleep, the cortisol levels in their bodies get disrupted, potentially impacting stress levels and health. Also, it is believed that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to insomnia as an adult.

If the high school times change, the elementary and junior high schools may consider doing the reverse, by changing to earlier start times for their students. Most elementary school kids are especially alert in the morning, so that possibility could work out well.

After the community meetings, a survey will be done and sent out to parents. The PRAA will then present its findings to the Board of Education this fall. After reviewing the report, a decision will be made regarding a change in school start times. If implemented, 2010 is the earliest the plan would take effect.

Werner concludes, "We want to look at every resource available and all the information, to make a good decision."

Keep updated at the Fremont Unified School District website: www.fremont.k12.ca.us

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